Friday, November 16, 2007

Carbon Offsets, Revisited

A few weeks ago I was pondering carbon offsets. Since then, I've read Carleton's thoughtful Shrinking Footprints blogpost about offsetting vacation travel. I've also noticed that Click and Clack, the Car Talk guys from NPR whose names are really Tom and Ray Magliozzi, have a webpage urging people (1) to drive less and choose transportation best suited to the task (one human being shouldn't need to fuel four tons of steel and 300 horsepower every time they need to go somewhere), and (2) to consider purchasing carbon offsets. They provide a nice resource page with further info on companies that sell offsets.

So, I've taken the plunge. After visiting several sites, I chose, a project of The Climate Trust, to purchase my offsets. I liked the breadth of the types of project they invest in. They have, as do most of these sites, a "calculate your carbon footprint" tool that weighs your household energy usage, vehicle use, and air travel to give you an idea of the level of offsets to purchase. For about the price of a large pizza per month, I will be investing in projects aimed at energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon sequestration, cogeneration, material replacement, and transportation efficiency. I can soon consider at least my home energy use and travel to be approximately carbon-neutral. I have also signed up for Xcel's WindSource program and am focusing my food purchases on more local sources. My contributions in these ways are small, but I believe in their power.


Anonymous said...

Hi Penny: thanks for the wonderful site, I read it often. Regarding carbon offsets, it is commendable that we should try to make up for some bad practises that contribute to our large individual carbon footprint. But our we not simply funding something that takes place ordinarily just to be absolved for our own bad practises?
Should we not just change what we are doing to lower our own footprint? Isn't that really the goal? To throw money at it and say now I can continue to do what I do and all is well seems wrong somehow. How do others feel about this subject?

Penny said...

The carbon-offset sites stress that this is investment in verified new projects that would not otherwise be taking place. You're absolutely right that there is no net value to simply continuing to fund efforts that are already in place. I don't see it as buying an indulgence that lets us keep living excessively, but it helps offset the activity we can't realistically reduce -- heating our homes in the winter, getting to work, etc. I absolutely think we should be finding ways to reduce our footprints as well!

Thanks for writing; I'm glad to know you are a regular reader, and glad to spark some conversation.

Rob Hardy said...

I have my qualms about the Xcel Windsource program. For one thing, Xcel is required by law to develop wind power in return for the legislature's permission to store nuclear waste at Prairie Island. Furthermore,the premium price for Windsource makes it seem as if wind power is more expensive than coal or nuclear. (This was one of the reasons that North Dakota rejected the Windsource program.) We shouldn't have to pay a premium price for something that the company is required to do and should be doing anyway, and is (at least in the long run) cheaper.

As for carbon offsets, I have to look into that one a little more closely.